SINGAPORE — It’s been a decade of ups and downs, to say the least.
From founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s death in 2015 to Joseph Schooling winning Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold medal; from Halimah Yacob become Singapore’s first female President to 2013’s riot in Little India – so much has taken place on our tiny island-state.
While it’s easy to get hung up on the bad news, espeically with the political and economic instability affecting the world right now, it is also important to remember the good stuff too.
On that note, here are our editors’ picks for Singapore’s biggest accomplishments over the last 10 years.
Making progress together
by Esther Au Yong (Editor-in-Chief)
In the last decade, we have become a more inclusive and compassionate society not only by our collective actions, but also by law.
For one, we have – finally – started to level the field for single mothers and their children. From 2017, unwed mothers have been entitled to the full 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave (previously only eight weeks). Children born to unwed mothers from 1 September 2016 onwards also qualify for a Child Development Account and its benefits (previously none). And since 2013, unwed mothers who are 35 years old or above can qualify for public housing under the Singles Scheme.
Along a similar vein, from 1 January, we will stop penalising people who attempt to commit suicide – a group who clearly need help, and who would likely benefit from more care and compassion. (However, abetting a suicide attempt is still an offence.)
Now, what about 377A, you ask? Whatever your view may be, I'd like to think we're all working towards “progress for our nation”.
Singapore’s rising soft power on the world stage
by Vernon Lee (Senior Editor)
Singapore has long been considered a nation that punches above its weight. In the past decade, the city-state has elevated itself to gain its greatest prominence ever on the world stage since independence.
The one event that best encapsulates Singapore’s rising soft power was in 2018 when it played host to one of the most significant political developments in recent decades: the Trump-Kim summit. The world’s media gathered in large numbers in the city to report on the historic event.
When US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shook hands at the Capella Hotel on 12 June 2018, it signalled to the world that Singapore is perceived as a trusted go-between for global leaders across the political divide.
It was not the first time that Singapore staged such a significant meeting between notable political foes. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping met then-Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou at the Shangri-la Hotel, the first ever cross-strait meeting between leaders of the two sides since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Singapore was chosen to be the host at the request of Xi and Ma.
Beyond the political arena, Singapore also shone in the eyes of the world.
In 2010, Singapore hosted the inaugural Youth Olympics with 3,600 athletes from over 200 nations taking part. Newspapers, TV stations and online media gave extensive coverage of the 13-day sporting extravaganza.
In the realm of popular entertainment, “Crazy Rich Asians” also helped to propel Singapore’s profile to audiences around the world as the Hollywood hit movie showcased many key attractions of the Republic at their resplendent best.
Even the makers behind the Japanese animated film Detective Conan – one of Japan's most popular manga and anime series – also chose Singapore as a backdrop for its 23rd feature film.
Triumph of the DIY spirit among elite athletes
by Chia Han Keong (Editor)
Before the 2010s, the most common pathway to success for elite athletes in Singapore was via the national sports associations (NSAs). They would train under top national coaches, compete with their peers, and get access to all the backend support mechanisms (sports science, nutrition, financial grants).
Yet this decade saw another success route, courtesy of the Do-It-Yourself spirit of two of the best sportsmen in recent years. Olympic gold-medallist swimmer Joseph Schooling and two-time SEA Games men's marathon winner Soh Rui Yong – along with their parents – took the gamble to eschew the NSA route to elite success, and ventured overseas to seek better coaches and environment to develop their sporting potentials.
With their eventual outstanding successes, the DIY spirit grew stronger. Local athletes who believed they could develop outside the NSA system were inspired by the successes of Schooling and Soh to bypass the sports associations. In another instance of alternative success, jiu-jitsu world champion Constance Lien had struggled as a budding swimmer under the NSA system, but found a far more holistic training environment to succeed in her second, NSA-less sport.
These vital sporting triumphs provide a blueprint for an alternative path to sporting success for local athletes, and hopefully compel NSAs to keep up with elite sports developments and better groom their charges.
Aljunied GRC: Low rises to the challenge
by Nicholas Yong (Assistant News Editor)
Eight years on, it is easy to forget just what a seismic achievement it was for Low Thia Khiang and the Workers’ Party: in 2011, the WP became the first opposition party to capture a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) when they triumphed in Aljunied during their second attempt to win it.
And the result was not even close: the team of Low, Sylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao, Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap garnered 54.72 per cent of the vote.
In the process, the Workers’ Party unseated two ministers (George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua), a Senior Minister of State (Zainul Abidin Rasheed) and denied a certain Ong Ye Kung his entry into Parliament. It sent a shockwave through the Singapore political scene, forcing the People’s Action Party to re-examine its policies and revamp its image. It also showed opposition parties that it was indeed possible to win a GRC and arguably led to the formation of new parties such as Singaporeans First.
This was not accomplished overnight: the WP first contested the ward in 2006 and had been actively walking the ground for years. Low also took a massive gamble in leaving his own ward of Hougang, which he had held since 1991, to contest in Aljunied. The former WP chief succeeded where Chiam could not: the latter left his Potong Pasir stronghold but could not capture Bishan-Toa Payoh.
Lots of firsts for local artists
by Dhany Osman (News Editor)
Forget “Crazy Rich Asians” and its unrealistic, Hollywood-pandering depictions of Singapore. The 2010s saw the rise of a new generation of local artists who have made their mark internationally.
In 2017, comic artist Sonny Liew became the first Singaporean to win an Eisner award – he won three, in fact – for his graphic novel “The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye”. This was despite the National Arts Council having earlier withdrawn its $8,000 publishing grant for the work due to its “sensitive content”.
On the big screen, local filmmakers such as Anthony Chen and Kirsten Tan also made waves on their feature film debuts. Chen’s heartwarming “Ilo Ilo” won the Camera d’Or prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (a first for a Singaporean), as well as the Best Feature Film and Best New Director prizes at the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. Meanwhile, Tan’s man-and-elephant drama “Pop Aye” earned a Special Jury Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Within the music scene, many local artists have combined DIY gumption with social media savviness and brought their work to audiences around the world.
Take the three-piece grindcore outfit Wormrot, for instance. From receiving critical acclaim in the global music press to getting signed to the legendary Earache Records music label and becoming the first Singapore band to play at the Glastonbury Music Festival, the band continue to expand their reach by booking their own tours to play for fans around the world. And they’re not the only ones doing this, with local acts from across the genres now making global connections (thank you, internet) and finding their fans wherever they may be.
I also tip my hat off to the local gig organisers – and venue owners – who have emerged over the past decade and have helped to add variety to concert scene here. Without them, less mainstream foreign acts wouldn’t get the chance to play for their Singapore fans.
Modern Singapore’s nascent arts scene may be small but it’s brimming with potential, and I think we’re headed in the right direction as we step into the 2020s.